Europe, of all places,  has approved a GM potato. Though not for food use - the potato will produce high quality starch - the event seems to promise a new era for GM crops in Europe.As an article in asked  "How Did a Genetically Modified Potato Gain Approval in Europe?"

From Treehugger:

a 13-year battle, the largest chemical company in the world, BASF won
approval from the European Commission to begin commercially growing a
genetically modified potato for industrial use. Many onlookers were
more than a little surprised by the decision considering the
Commission's formerly skeptical approach to GMOs. The decision has
incited fury amongst harsh critics which included Italy and Austria who
fear a health disaster.

The EU decision comes about a month after India halted the release of its first GM food crop -  the Bt Brinjal,  an insect resistant eggplant variety.

Here is background on Bt Brinjal from the Wall Street Journal:

Bt Brinjal is developed by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd., or Mahyco, a leading private Indian seed company. The plants in question have been modified to withstand attacks from pests, especially those that bore into the plant's fruit and shoots and destroy it. Scientific tests on the eggplant have been carried out in India since 2000. India is one of the largest producers of eggplant in the world, accounting for 9% of the country's total vegetable production

Again, as has been said before, market acceptance of GM food crops will need to derive from benefits to consumers, whether delivered in nutrition, taste or some other favored attributes.

Here is the BASF news release about Amflora's approval.

From the release:

Ludwigshafen  , Germany – March 2, 2010 – Today the European Commission approved Amflora, BASF's genetically optimized starch potato, for commercial application in Europe. The potato can now be used for the production of industrial starch.

"After waiting for more than 13 years, we are delighted that the European Commission has approved Amflora," said Stefan Marcinowski, member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE. “We hope, that this decision is a milestone for further innovative products that will promote a competitive and sustainable agriculture in Europe.”

"The way is now clear for comcial cultivation of Amflora this year," said Peter Eckes, President of BASF Plant Science. "Amflora will strengthen the international position of the European potato starch industry."

 The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirmed on several occasions during the approval process that Amflora is safe for humans, animals and the environment.

 Now that the European Commission has given its approval to Amflora's commercial cultivation, Sweden as the so-called “rapporteur” country will formally issue its legal approval. The application for approval of Amflora was filed in Sweden in 1996.

 Amflora produces pure amylopectin starch used in certain technical applications. Food use is not foreseen. It was developed in collaboration with experts from the European starch industry to respond to the demand for pure amylopectin starch. Conventional potatoes produce a mixture of amylopectin and amylose starch. For many technical applications, such as in the paper, textile and adhesives industries, pure amylopectin is advantageous, but separating the two starch components is uneconomical. The industry will benefit from high-quality Amflora starch that optimizes industrial processes: it gives paper a higher gloss, and concrete and adhesives can be processed for a longer period of time. This reduces the consumption of energy, additives and raw materials such as water.

From the EU,
a news release with Q and A about the controversial approval. From the EU

Why is the Commission taking this Decision for the cultivation of the GM Amflora potato now?

The favourable European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion on the cultivation of this starch potato was issued in February 2006. This opinion confirmed the favourable opinion of Sweden of 2004. Since that time, the Commission has been very carefully and very seriously reflecting on the situation. In particular , the Commission decided, during its College meeting of 8 may 2008, to request a new EFSA opinion. The objective was to obtain a new and authoritative opinion on the Antibiotic Resistance Marker (ARM) gene. The College also indicated that in case of a new positive EFSA opinion, decisions would have to be taken accordingly.

Are there any other GMO's on which the Commission could take decision in the near future?

The MON810 excluded, the Commission will also have to take decisions on three other GM maize products that have received favourable EFSA opinions.

The first two are GM Bt maize which confer protection to the plant against insects. These two maize are Bt maize Bt 11 (from the company Syngenta) and Bt Maize 1507 (from the company Pioneer). They are in the middle of the Comitology procedure since proposals of authorisations did not receive the necessary support of the Regulatory Committee. The Commission should now decide whether it is appropriate to transmit to the Council proposals for authorisation.

The third one is maize NK 603 (from the Company Monsanto) that is tolerant to the herbicide RoundUp. The favourable EFSA opinion was adopted in June 2009 and the Commission should take a decision regarding the submission of a draft decision to SCoFCAH (first step of the comitology procedure).

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